In his farewell speech at the Last Supper, Jesus compared his relationship to God the Father using the example of a vine and vinedresser. While presenting himself as the true vine, he portrayed his disciples as its branches. From the practice of vinedressers, Jesus warned the disciples that God will cut off the fruitless branches and burn them. The fruitful branches would face pruning for more productivity. Thus, Jesus validated the eternal destruction of the unfaithful and the hardships of the disciples. The goal of Christians must be to become fruitful branches of Jesus and the means for it is by preserving their unity with him. When we stay united with Jesus and his church by obeying his commandments, God would grant our requests. The Father will gain glory when the disciples become productive through Jesus. Let us be fruitful Christians by listening to the words of Jesus and maintaining unity with his church.
BIBLE TEXT (JOHN 15:1-8)
The Vine and the Branches
(Jn 15:1) I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower. (2) Any of my branches that does not bear fruit, he breaks it off; and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear even more fruit. (3) You are already made clean by the word I have spoken to you; (4) live in me as I live in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it has to remain part of the vine; so neither can you bear fruit if you do not live in me. (5) I am the vine and you are the branches. As long as you remain in me and I in you, you bear much fruit; but apart from me you can do nothing. (6) Whoever does not remain in me is like a withered branch that is thrown away; and the withered branches are gathered and thrown into the fire and burned. (7) If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask whatever you want and it will be given to you. (8) This is how my Father is glorified – you become my disciples, and bear much fruit.
Jesus taught his apostles on discipleship through his words and actions at the Last Supper. He washed their feet to teach them the need for humility and purity in their lives (Jn 13:1-17). He expressed during his discourse with them his awareness of the betrayal of Judas (Jn 13: 10-11, 18, 21-30). Jesus reminded the apostles to keep his commandment of love as a sign of their fellowship with him (Jn 13:34-35). He then predicted Peter’s denial of him three times that night (Jn 13:36-38).
During his last supper discourse, Jesus promised the apostles that he would come back after preparing a place for them and take them to his abode in heaven (Jn 14:1-3) and revealed himself as “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). He also clarified his unity with the Father by expressing, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn 14:11). Those who know Jesus will know the Father and those who see him see the Father. He speaks and works on behalf of the Father (Jn 14:7-14). Jesus also promised to send the Holy Spirit upon the apostles (Jn 14:15-31). After revealing the Trinitarian bond to the disciples, Jesus presented the metaphor of the vine and its branches to remind them of the relevance of their unity with Jesus and to become productive for the glory of God.
The Vine and the Branches
(Jn 15:1) I am the true vine and my Father is the vine grower.
I am the true vine
Jesus made use of imageries from people’s experience to clarify his relationship with the Father and his disciples. His listeners were familiar with the well-maintained vine plantation on the hillsides of the Holy Land. Here Jesus presents himself as “the true vine” like he had presented himself as the gate for the sheep (Jn 10:7-9) and as the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11-15). Isaiah presented Israel as God’s vineyard (Is 5:1–7) and Jesus used the same imagery for the parable of the tenants presenting Israel as God’s well-preserved vineyard (Mt 21:33-46). Psalm 80:9-17 presents Israel as God’s vine, starting with, “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out nations and planted it” (Is 80:9).
I am the true vine
The Biblical meaning of the word “true” stands for what is eternal, heavenly, and divine. The worldly is imperfect, whereas the divine is the genuine and the perfect. Jesus revealed he is the truth (Jn 14:6). According to John the Evangelist, Jesus is “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). Jesus emphasizes the truthfulness, eternity, and perfection of himself as the vine of divine origin by using the word “true.” Unlike Israel the vineyard of God, this vine tree is the excellent one bearing the best fruit because there is a quality difference in the vine trees. While speaking of false prophets, Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit” (Mt 7:16-18). Jesus, unlike rotten vine trees, is the best of its kind, bearing high quality fruit.
My Father is the vine grower.
God is the owner of the vine, which stands for Jesus with his disciples as its branches. In the parable of the tenants, Jesus presented the Father as the “landowner who planted a vineyard” (Mt 21:33; Mk 12:1; Lk 20:9) which is Israel. Jesus did not work independently of himself and expressed his close affiliation with the Father. The Father is also the vinedresser who takes diligent care of his vine to assure good yield.
(2) Any of my branches that does not bear fruit, he breaks it off; and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear even more fruit.
God, as the vinedresser, would do the two-fold tasks in his vineyard for effective fruit production. First, he would cut off the fruitless tendrils to save the sap that they might use, thus saving it for the fruit-bearing branches. Then he would trim unnecessary shoots to keep the sap only for the selected branches, yielding the best results.
When Jesus presented this metaphor, Judas was the rotten branch among the apostles. He cut himself off from Jesus’ team by his greed for money, betrayal of his master, and his suicide. The other eleven were the fruitful branches that went through pruning during their ministry. The apostles, whom God pruned, produced excellent results. A comparable situation would continue in the church’s history.
Any of my branches that does not bear fruit, he breaks it off
Jesus is the vine, and his disciples are the branches that he feeds with spiritual nourishment. They must bear excellent fruit out of the grace they receive. If they fail in it, God the Father, who is the vinedresser, would cut them out of the tree, ending in their eternal destruction. Matthew chapter 25 gives examples of such futile people.
A few people who joined the mystical body of Christ through baptism might lose faith and leave the church like a cut off branch. Some others would remain as nominal members in the church, generating no results out of the grace they have received. A typical example is Judas Iscariot, who, along other apostles, left everything and followed Jesus closely, preached his gospel in the villages and towns, and healed the sick and cast out demons. However, his heart was still nurturing selfish motives. Jesus told about such disciples, “‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?’ Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers’” (Mt 7:21-23). Hence, only those who do the Father’s will, as Jesus taught us, will be the true branches that God would preserve for eternal reward. God the Father will destroy the unproductive branches.
Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear even more fruit.
During the Biblical times, the farmers prevented vine from fruit-bearing during the first three years of its growth to keep the plant strong. Careful pruning will continue from the fourth year to strengthen the fruit-bearing capacity. The annual pruning takes place in December and January.
Pruning of the vine involves:
These acts will hurt the plant but are beneficial for their best productivity. Jesus used this as an example of the hardships and opposition the disciples might face in their ministry, leading to a glorious result. God the Father allows them for the best outcome.
During the Old Testament times, the vineyard of God was the house of Israel, the people of Judah, his cherished plant (Isa 5:7a). “He spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; Within it, he built a watchtower and hewed out a wine press. Then he waited for the crop of grapes, but it yielded rotten grapes” (Isa 5:2). “Although prophets were sent to them to turn them back to the LORD and to warn them, the people would not listen” (2 Chr 24:19). He destroyed the unfaithful through war and natural calamities, like cutting away the rotten branches of the vine. He pruned the rest by temporary punishments for their repentance and revival of covenantal relationship with God. “The discipline of the LORD, my son, do not spurn; do not disdain his reproof; For whom the LORD loves he reproves, as a father, the son he favors” (Prov 3:11-12).
Jesus came to prune the imperfect and to add the obedient in his kingdom, the church. After his ascension into heaven, Jesus continues to feed the faithful through his church like the unseen root of the tree. Thus, the Christians receive spiritual nourishment from Jesus through the church to become virtuous in the world. While feeding the faithful with sacramental grace, God also prunes them with challenges in lives and in their ministry for high productivity. “Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life that he promised to those who love him” (Jm 1:12).
Fruit and food production involve hardship and pain, ending in excellent result. Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (Jn 12:24). People grind the wheat to make bread and crush the grapes to produce wine. Similarly, the glorification of Jesus happened after his passion, death, and resurrection. He asked his disciples to follow his path. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:24-25).
Spiritual pruning must be necessary for our purification and spiritual growth. Prominent Biblical persons like Noah, Abraham, and Job faced challenges in their spiritual journey, culminating in high rewards for them. The apostles and the early Christian community underwent persecutions because of their loyalty to Jesus. They welcomed the pain of pruning without complaint because Jesus was their role model in facing severe oppression. “Some of the wise will stumble, so that they may be refined, purified and made spotless until the time of the end, for it will still come at the appointed time” (Dan 11:35). Every failure, sickness, death of a loved person, material loss, prejudice, hardships in the ministry, or other hurdles will have a better turn out if we take them with a positive attitude.
Jesus taught, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few” (Mt 7:13-14). God knows our suffering and, like a parent to the child, he would safeguard us and welcome us to himself. Hence, we read in Hebrews, “Endure your trials as ‘discipline;’ God treats you as sons. For what ‘son’ is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are without discipline, in which all have shared, you are not sons but bastards” (Heb 12:7-8). “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it” (Heb 12:11).
(3) You are already made clean by the word I have spoken to you
Uncleanliness came into the spiritual life of humanity by the first parents’ violation of God’s commandment. The uncleanliness continued whenever people disobeyed the word of God. Jesus, the Word of God, came to teach us the truth and make us neat by obeying God. The book of Hebrews states, “Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Heb 4:12). God’s word is truth that can sanctify the people of God (Jn 17:17). The apostles received that powerful and sanctifying word directly from Jesus, the Word of God. Simon Peter was convinced of the value of Jesus’ teachings. He confessed to Jesus, “You have the words of eternal life” (Jn 6:68). Jesus’ teachings for over three years cleansed all the apostles, except Judas Iscariot (Jn 13:10-11). After he left Jesus and the apostles for betrayal, Jesus said of the eleven they were already clean.
According to the Old Testament, the fruits of the first three years are unclean (uncircumcised) and from the fourth year onwards they are acceptable for offering to God (Lev 19:23-24). The apostles were entering the fourth year of following Jesus. By that time, the Word of God cleansed them like the knife of the vinedresser pruned the vine. The Word of God is like fire that burns the impurities and purifies the metals like gold, silver, bronze, iron, tin, and lead (Num 31:22-23). Jesus purified the apostles, and they were ready to produce good fruit based on the words they heard and practiced in life.
(4) Live in me as I live in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it has to remain part of the vine; so neither can you bear fruit if you do not live in me.
Live in me as I live in you.
Jesus expressed his union with the Father, “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30). He prayed for his future disciples, “they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us” (Jn 17:21). When we live in Christ by complying to the teachings of Jesus, we gain unity with his Father. During his farewell speech to the apostles, Jesus said, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you” (Jn 14:19-20). Jesus assured that when we live in communion with him, he will dwell in us, and we will be in union with his Father as well. During his teaching on the Holy Eucharist, Jesus said, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me” (Jn 6:55-57). Along with the Holy Spirit, Jesus is guiding the church and its faithful.
No branch can bear fruit by itself; it has to remain part of the vine; so neither can you bear fruit if you do not live in me.
Apart from Jesus, a person cannot be spiritually productive and gain the eternal reward in heaven. During his public ministry, those who confessed their faith in Jesus Christ gained miraculous favors from him. Whereas those who rejected Jesus missed the spiritual benefits he had offered to humanity. They were stuck with their prejudice, selfishness, or attachment to wealth. Though Judas joined Jesus as a disciple and Jesus selected him as an apostle, the selfish motives made him a cut away branch. Jesus asked a young rich man who wished to inherit eternal life to sell his property and give to the poor to follow Jesus. He went away sadly, declining to give up his possessions. Worldly attachments can prevent a person from remaining part of Jesus, the true vine.
A branch cannot function independently but has to remain part of the tree to get the sap necessary for survival and productivity. Jesus, the way, and the truth, also gives eternal life. No one can inherit the kingdom without him. When a branch separates from the tree, it loses life, as with the prodigal son who insisted on departing from his father with his inheritance. He eventually lost everything he had received from the father and all people abandoned him. He became like a withered branch. When he reconciled with his father, he regained his lost privileges in the family. Separation from Jesus and his church is spiritually destructive and union with Jesus through his church is beneficial for the eternal reward. So, Jesus came to bring back to him and to his Father those who became withered branches.
(5) I am the vine and you are the branches. As long as you remain in me and I in you, you bear much fruit; but apart from me you can do nothing.
Vine can survive even if we cut down a few branches. Whereas the branches cannot continue to exist without its union with the stem. When the branches remain connected to the tree, they form one vine and become fruitful. Jesus is the vine that connects the branches to the ground from where the nourishments originate and flows through the roots and stem to the branches. Similarly, we get the grace from heaven only through Jesus and his church. That is why Jesus said, “apart from me, you can do nothing.”
During the Old Testament times, when the chosen people deviated from the commandments of God, they lost God’s protection. That led to their destruction by the enemies around them ending up in slavery. When division happened in Israel after the reign of Solomon, the Northern Israel lost connection with the Temple in Jerusalem and became idolatrous. The Assyrians attacked them and dispersed them all over the world. They could never regain unity with the worshippers of the God of Israel.
Jesus established only one church with him as its head. Unfortunately, divisions happened because of opposing views and conflict of interests, resulting in multiple Christian denominations. Jesus had prayed for the unity of his disciples by the end of his public ministry (Jn 17:20-21). Individuals also separated from the church, claiming they want only a direct relation with God. Such spiritual people miss understanding that Jesus is the only way, truth, and life. Without him and his church, we cannot reach our eternal destination.
(6) Whoever does not remain in me is like a withered branch that is thrown away; and the withered branches are gathered and thrown into the fire and burned.
When the vinedresser cuts away the fruitless and dried branches, they wither and become useless except as fuel for fire (Ezek 15:1-8). Similarly, an unfaithful Christian will wither spiritually, ending up in eternal destruction, though he or she might seem healthy and wealthy at present. Those who abandon their faith in Jesus or affiliation with the church he established would not inherit heaven because Jesus is the only way to the Father.
The message of John the Baptist was, “Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3). When Jesus was hungry, he approached a fig tree. Even after three years of its growth, it did not produce any fruit, but leaves only. He said to it, “‘May no fruit ever come from you again.’ And immediately the fig tree withered” (Mt 21:20. God would allow time to the fruitless people for conversion. In the parable of the barren fig tree, the owner said to the gardener, “For three years now, I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?” At his request, the owner allowed another year to till the ground and fertilize it, giving it a last chance (Lk 13:6-8). So, the material prosperity of the non-believer is not an assurance of God’s reward but an opportunity for repentance and reconciliation with Jesus and his church.
The destruction of the withered people in fire will happen at the second coming of Christ. “But as for cowards, the unfaithful, the depraved, murderers, the unchaste, sorcerers, idol-worshipers, and deceivers of every sort, their lot is in the burning pool of fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev 21:8).
(7) If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask whatever you want and it will be given to you.
If you remain in me and my words remain in you
When the disciples remain united with Jesus by keeping his commandment of love, his words remain productive through them. They extend his mission by preaching the word of God and serving people who are in distress, as Jesus had been doing during his public ministry. The Word that became flesh and dwelt among us will continue his action through his representatives. At the last supper discourse, Jesus told the apostles, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (Jn 14:23-24). God blessed David and renewed His covenant with him because he walked before God with fidelity, justice, and an upright heart (1 Kgs 3:6).
You may ask whatever you want and it will be given to you.
God is always pleased to grant what His faithful servants need for their ministry. King Solomon, at the early stage of his governance, sacrificed a thousand burned offerings at Mount Gibeon. God appeared to him there in a dream at night and said, “Whatever you ask I shall give you.” Solomon’s request was, “Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to give judgment for this vast people of yours?” The Lord was pleased at Solomon’s request and said, “I give you a heart so wise and discerning that there has never been anyone like you until now, nor after you will there be anyone to equal you. In addition, I give you what you have not asked for: I give you such riches and glory that among kings there will be no one like you all your days. And if you walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and commandments, as David your father did, I will give you a long life” (1 Kgs 3:4-14).
During the sermon on the mount Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Mt 7:7-8). Jesus assured answer to prayers in his name. “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (Jn 14:13). “Whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you” (Jn 15:16). “Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (Jn 16:24).
The apostles did miracles in Jesus’ name, so their listeners were convinced of the divine mission they were holding. God the Father answered all the prayers of Jesus except his prayer at Gethsemane to take away the chalice from him. Jesus knew he had to complete his mission. So, he added, “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!” (Mt 26:42). Instead of taking away the suffering, God sent his angel to empower Jesus in his distress to complete his mission (Lk 22:43). Comparable situation can happen in our lives also. That is why Jesus added, “Thy will be done” in the Lord’s prayer.
God told Moses, “‘I will show mercy to whom I will, I will take pity on whom I will.’ So it depends not upon a person’s will or exertion, but upon God, who shows mercy” (Rom 9:15-16). We should not get disappointed when God does not answer all our prayers. As a parent looks for what is good for the children, God will provide all we need even without our asking, especially for our spiritual growth. Jesus taught, “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt 6:8). Jesus said, “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him” (Mt 7:11).
(8) This is how my Father is glorified – you become my disciples, and bear much fruit.
Parents find glory at the achievement of their children, and teachers at the success of their students. Jesus uses a similar pattern in God’s glory by the spiritual fruits we earn by becoming disciples of Jesus. Thus, Jesus established the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the fruitful Christians. During the sermon on the mount Jesus told his disciples, “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:16). The spiritual achievement of the disciple is part of the accomplishment of Christ, who glorifies the Father through his successful act of redemption. Every action of a Christian should orient for the greater glory of God. Paul advises, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).